By: Robert Weisman
September 29, 2016
Denmark’s LEO Pharma is the latest European health care company to open an office in Cambridge’s Kendall Square, a global life sciences hub.
The company, owned by the LEO Foundation based in the Danish town of Ballerup, plans to announce Friday that it is establishing a local outpost to help invest a $22.5 million fund that will finance collaborations developing skin disease treatments.
Three executives at LEO Science & Tech Hub, an arm of LEO Pharma, will set up shop in Cambridge to vet potential partnerships in dermatology research in the Boston area and beyond. The office plans to make an unspecified number of investments — each between $5 million and $10 million — into alliances with partners making similar contributions.
“By creating alliances with industry and academia here in the region, we hope to change the treatment paradiam in dermatology and improve the quality of life of people with skin diseases,” Kim Kjoeller, executive vice president for global research and development at LEO Pharma, said in a statement.
October 3, 2016
Spotlight: Q&A with Michael Sierra, Vice President, LEO Science & Tech Hub
Q: Can you give us a quick overview of LEO Science & Tech Hub?
The LEO Science & Tech Hub is the first dermatology-focused innovation center in Boston. The Hub will join forces with the life sciences community to advance the treatment of skin diseases. The unique structure of the Hub will allow for diverse partnerships with academic institutions, biotech companies and venture capitalists, making Boston a logical choice for its location.
Q: What are the Hub’s goals for the coming years?
Our ultimate goal is to pave the way for precision medicine within dermatology so patients can quickly be prescribed precisely the right treatment for them. This has been done already in monitoring heart disease and been shown to reduce the need for surgery. We want to apply this technology to dermatology to help people with skin diseases get the right diagnosis and treatment.
It’s about empowering patients and improving their quality of life. And enabling both patients and doctors to monitor, diagnose and treat skin diseases in a more effective and less invasive way.
Our team wants to help academia validate novel targets using LEO Pharma’s disease models and gain access to innovations and technologies that are not currently publicly available. We will actively search for technology partners to solve existing challenges within LEO Pharma’s R&D and independent business unit, LEO Innovation Lab. And of course, we want to provide opportunities for seed investments and establish relationships with external talents at world-class academic and biotech institutions.
Q: How do you plan on achieving these goals?
We want to identify a molecular ‘fingerprint’ or imaging technology that—backed up by an ever-growing sophisticated data set—allows a patient to monitor treatment, predict flare ups and facilitate dialogue with their doctor. We will engage with life science innovators to explore fields such as non-invasive biomarkers, artificial intelligence and imaging technologies.
Q: What can the Hub offer collaborators?
We want to join forces with life science innovators in the U.S. to change the treatment paradigm for people with skin diseases and take the first steps toward applying precision medicine in dermatology. By offering our collaborators access to funding and a unique global network of dermatology expertise, we want to act as catalysts for innovation and help advance new science and technology.
LEO Pharma has experts within our field—a powerful team able to work in an agile way. The Hub has access to full deal-making capabilities and can provide support in terms of seed investments and co-development. Through our parent company, the Hub offers access to a global network of dermatology expertise. Collaborators can access LEO Pharma’s preclinical and clinical expertise as well as the digital healthcare expertise of LEO Innovation Lab. Also, the Hub has funding to co-invest $5-10 million per project to move them forward.
First of all, we are seeking new paths of innovation through collaborations, meaning that we are seeking early potential breakthrough science and technologies to be used within dermatology. Forming collaborations can further expand our already extensive global network to connect the dots and will definitely add a lot of expertise as well as financial support. And not to forget, we strive to improve the quality life. These collaborations will allow us to advance new technologies and science to the next stage.
Q: Can we talk a little about burden of skin diseases?
One in four people worldwide live with a skin disease. In the United States, more than 100 million people—one-third of the country’s population—now live with a skin disease. These millions of people and their families face many challenges in their everyday lives. For some, their greatest challenge may be finding a treatment that works to alleviate their symptoms. For others, it’s sticking to their treatment regimen. For others, the social stigma of having a skin disease will be the biggest factor impacting on their quality of life.
Q: What is your vision for standard care in skin diseases in the near future?
Our vision is enabling patients and doctors to monitor, diagnose and treat skin diseases more effectively and in a more user-friendly way. Let me give some examples of what we hope can become a reality.
Imagine if you could use your iPhone to help diagnose whether that strange-looking rash on your arm is in fact a skin disease. With just one click, the phone sends a snapshot to a cloud data platform that quickly analyses your skin using artificial intelligence. Or imagine that, instead of having to undergo an uncomfortable skin biopsy, you could sit comfortably while the doctor takes a picture of your skin and with the help of advanced data analysis can prescribe the right treatment for you.
Q: Why chose Boston?
Boston is the world’s pre-eminent biotech hub with an established innovation ecosystem. Local higher education institutes enjoy global recognition and have over the years sent tens of thousands of talents to advance scientific and technology research. Another reason that we decided to locate the Hub here is the mature biotech scene. Being the first dermatology hub in Boston, we need easy and quick access to resources so that we can focus more on science and technology. We want to join forces with these talents, academic research labs and utilize the existing resources to progress our initiatives in improving diagnosis and treatments in skin diseases.